Faith (?): A Novel (?)

The question marks in the post title are there because the word “faith” seems to be a rather lofty word for the name of a novel.  After reading Haigh’s book, I still think the word is a little lofty, but I understand  more about why she may have chosen this title.

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The story revolves around a devoutly Catholic family.  While faith in God (or lack thereof) is an underlying theme throughout the story, I think the faith to which the author refers has more to do with the narrator, Sheila McGann, and her faith (or lack thereof) in her brother, a priest accused of child abuse in Boston in 2002.  Sheila and Art (the priest) also have another brother, Mike.  Sheila and Mike have the same father.  Art has a different father that he never knew.

The book runs 318 pages, but reads more like a short story.  Art’s family, especially his siblings, reacts to the accusations rendered against him.  The story is told by Sheila after the fact.  It reads somewhat like her own investigation into her family’s secrets.  The pieces of the story are based on Sheila’s conversations with the characters involved, including the young mother making the accusations against Art.  Sometimes this format is a little problematic in that there are details that seem rather implausible for Sheila to know even after having these conversations.  This doesn’t necessarily ruin the story, but I couldn’t help thinking “yeah right” a few times while reading.

The final third of the story is the part that made it worth reading.  Sheila’s musings on the lives of both her brothers and her parents and her rejection of her family’s faith are powerful pages.  I’ve debated about writing in this post whether Art is innocent or guilty of the accusations.  I want to try to stay away from having to put “Spoiler Alerts” on my posts.  The reader ultimately finds out.  However, the story that Sheila tells doesn’t seem to need Art to be guilty or innocent.  Most of the family’s dysfunctions and the results in the lives of the three siblings are more deep-rooted than this one incident.  The author gets kudos for her ability to develop the story this way!

If you are looking for a story of someone’s struggle with faith and family and the twists and turns that struggle can take, you might like this book.   Because my reading list contains too many other books I want to read, I probably won’t be reading more of Jennifer Haigh’s novels in the near future.  But you never know, one could pop up sometime.

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